The Lessons of Racism

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Growing up in a small town in Scotland meant I was constantly surrounded by white faces. Diverse is not a word one would ever consider to describe the town I have lived in my whole life and as a result of this I was fairly sheltered from racism.

Racism was something I only ever read about in my American history textbooks. It was a subject I was extremely interested in but was also very naïve to. The racism I was reading about happened during the days of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and to me, that level of racism no longer existed. I had never seen it in real life therefore was completely ignorant to it.

I learnt after leaving school and discovering that there is a world beyond the building I had to be in for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week that prejudice towards all races still exists. That was something that was conveniently left out of every single textbook and every educational film I was ever shown during my 12 years of education.

I’m glad I discovered that racism is still well and truly alive when I did as the current events America is producing would completely tear my mind apart if I hadn’t realised the awful truth.

Racism isn’t something I’ve ever experienced so it would be rather pretentious of me to comment on the emotional and mental impact it can have. The only side of racism I can understand is the death it causes. The black people who are shot for having a toy gun in a park, for walking down the street with their friend or for having the audacity to sell untaxed cigarettes in New York.

I can’t even begin to comprehend how people can look at someone and only see skin colour. I find it difficult to process the fact your skin colour automatically stereotypes you. As far as I’m concerned the “white girl” stereotypes on social media are all in good fun but the stereotypes projected onto black people are disturbing.

When Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman had an outburst on the sidelines after the 2013 NFC Championship game he was automatically branded a “thug”. He suddenly had no place in the NFL due to an emotional interview conducted by Erin Andrews.

The real Richard Sherman is a hardworking, intelligent, dedicated Stanford graduate who helped the Seahawks dramatically during last season. He’s not a thug but his skin colour predetermined how not only the media but the general public would respond to his reaction after the game. Richard Sherman later went on to point out that “thug” was the new way of using the n word.

It doesn’t make any sense to me. When I look at a person, I see them as a fellow human being because that’s exactly what they are. They could come from any country, be of any skin colour and come from any background and I really wouldn’t care; I’m only interested in whether someone is a good person or not, the rest just doesn’t interest me.

It’s been 46 years since the death of Martin Luther King and black people are still fighting for equality. When things changed towards the end of my American history textbooks I assumed racism had ended. I stupidly thought people were more willing to accept someone who isn’t white as a person but I was wrong.

Racism still exists to this day and although it doesn’t affect me directly, I still want to fight against it. I can’t be in Ferguson, Missouri or New York to protest but I can be there in spirit and pray that one day, skin colour won’t matter. I can support the families of the victims, I can applaud the Rams players who stepped onto the field in the “hands up, don’t shoot” stance and I can fight for equality even if I’m only playing a very small role in the battle.

I may not fully understand racism and I may have been ignorant towards it for a long time but I’m slowly but surely becoming more and more aware of it. I don’t know how to handle it, I don’t know the solution but I know I can be part of the fix as opposed to being part of the issue and that’s exactly what I’m choosing to do. I only wish that eventually every single person who inhabits this planet learns to do the same.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

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